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Shigeki Watanabe, Ph.D.

Photo of Dr. Shigeki Watanabe, Ph.D.
  • Associate Professor of Cell Biology

Research Interests

Microscopy; synaptic plasticity; Cell biology; Neuroscience


Dr. Shigeki Watanabe is an assistant professor of cell biology and of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His research focuses on cellular and molecular characterizations of rapid changes during synaptic plasticity.

Dr. Watanabe received his undergraduate degree and Ph.D. in biology from the University of Utah. He completed postdoctoral work in neuroscience at the University of Utah and Charité –Universitätzmedizin, Berlin. He joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2016.

He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, the American Society for Cell Biology and the Biophysical Society. His work has been recognized with several awards, including the Eppendorf and Science Prize for Neurobiology from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. more


  • Associate Professor of Cell Biology
  • Associate Professor of Neuroscience

Departments / Divisions



  • Ph.D., University of Utah (Utah) (2013)
  • B.A., University of Utah (Utah) (2004)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Dr. Shigeki Watanabe is trained in genetics, molecular biology and cell biology in C. elegans and mice with a special focus on imaging neuronal functions. He developed two novel techniques in electron microscopy that allow the visualization of proteins and membrane dynamics at synapses. One technique induces membrane movement using the optogenetic stimulation of neurons and captures the subsequent events at a millisecond temporal resolution using a rapid high-pressure freezing method. Another technique pinpoints the locations of proteins within their subcellular context by coupling super-resolution imaging with electron microscopy. Using these techniques, Dr. Watanabe is studying cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity. 

He has collaborated with many scientists across the world and worked with various model organisms, including zebrafish.


Work in the Shigeki Watanabe Lab is focused on cellular and molecular characterizations of rapid changes during synaptic plasticity. Little is known about either how the morphology of spines is regulated or how the surface occupancy of receptors is regulated. What are the morphological changes that trigger synaptic plasticity? How are receptors redistributed during this process? What are the molecular pathways that mediate the redistribution? Researchers aim to answer these questions using cutting-edge electron microscopy techniques in combination with molecular and biochemical approaches.

Selected Publications

View all on Pubmed

Watanabe S. "Slow or fast? A tale of synaptic vesicle recycling." Science. 2015;350:46-7.

Watanabe S, Trimbuch T, Camacho-Pérez M, Rost BR, Brokowski B, Söhl-Kielczynski B, Felies A, Davis MW, Rosenmund C, Jorgensen EM. "Clathrin regenerates synaptic vesicles from edosomes." Nature. 2014;515:228-33. doi:10.1038/nature13846.

Watanabe S, Liu Q, Davis MW, Thomas N, Richards J, Hollopeter G, Gu M, Jorgensen NB, Jorgensen EM. "Ultrafast endocytosis at the C. elegans neuromuscular junction." eLife. 2013;2:e00723.

Gu M, Liu Q, Watanabe S, Sun L, Grant B, Jorgensen EM. "AP2 hemicomplexes contribute independently to synaptic vesicle endocytosis." eLife. 2013;2.

Shao Z, Watanabe S, Christensen R, Jorgensen EM, Colón-Ramos DA. "Synapse location during growth depends on glia location." Cell. 2013;154:337-350.

Watanabe S, Rost B, Camacho M, Davis MW, Söhl-Kielczynski B, Felies A, Rosenmund C, Jorgensen EM. "Ultrafast endocytosis at mouse hippocampal synapses." Nature. 2013;504:242-7. doi: 10.1038/12809.

Activities & Honors


  • Eppendorf and Science Prize for Neurobiology, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2015
  • Merton Bernfield Award, American Society for Cell Biology, 2015
  • Emil du Bois-Reymond Prize, German Physiological Society, 2015
  • Grass Fellowship, Marine Biological Laboratories, Woods Hole, MA, 2014
  • Nemko Prize in Cellular or Molecular Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 2013
  • Riser Award for Outstanding Research, University of Utah, 2013


  • Society for Neuroscience, 2015
  • American Society for Cell Biology, 2015
  • Biophysical Society, 2015
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